Revealed: Edinburgh festivals reliant on ticket sales to residents

A Fringe entertainer performs on the Royal Mile in 2017. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty
A Fringe entertainer performs on the Royal Mile in 2017. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty
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New research has revealed how reliant Edinburgh’s main festivals are on local ticket sales – with most events doing between 40 and 70 per cent of their business within the city’s boundary.

More than two -thirds of tickets for the Edinburgh International Festival are sold within Scotland, according to the research compiled by the umbrella body Festivals Edinburgh and published by the city council.

This compares to 80 per cent for the book festival, which generates almost half its box office takings in Edinburgh, and nearly 75 per cent for the film festival.

However the Fringe, which sells far more tickets than the city’s other major events, has the lowest take-up locally.

It sells more tickets (26 per cent) overseas than it does in Edinburgh (22 per cent), however organisers pointed out that its local sales figure of more than 600,000 was still higher than the entire population of the city.

The Tattoo has the biggest international audience, which makes up more than half of its box office takings, with only one in five of its tickets sold in Scotland.

The biggest proportion of the 2,696,684 tickets sold for Fringe shows last year were bought south of the Border. The jazz festival has the biggest local audience, at 71 per cent, but sells just 35,815 tickets. This compares to the 54 per cent of film festival tickets sold in Edinburgh and the 49 per cent of box office income that the book festival generates in the city.

The Edinburgh International Festival, which boasts the second biggest audience, sells 12 per cent of its tickets overseas, compared to the 40 per cent which are sold in the city. The EIF, which shared its 70th anniversary with the Fringe and the film festival last year, reported record box office income of £4.3 million.

A spokeswoman for the EIF said: “The people of Edinburgh have always been fantastic champions of the International Festival. For many years they’ve formed the core of our audience, attending events and inviting friends from all over the world to enjoy the Festival and our city.

“Each year draws new attendees from Edinburgh and beyond, renewing and developing the festival audience through its vital and varied programme which offers unique experiences for all attendees.”

The Fringe’s box office was up nine per cent last year, a rise of almost a quarter of a million in the space of just 12 months.

The number of international countries registered rose to a record 58 this year – up 32 per cent in the space of 12 months – despite fears over the impact of the event from the Brexit referendum vote in 2016.

Shona McCarthy, chief executive of the Fringe, said: “Now in its 71st year, it’s encouraging that the Fringe remains at the heart of cultural life here in Edinburgh, across Scotland, throughout the UK and all over the world.

“In 2017, we issued more than 600,000 tickets to Edinburgh residents (more than the total population of the city), engaged with nearly 40 per cent of Scotland’s population and hosted participants from 62 countries, including 814 Scottish companies.

“The Fringe is for everyone and, alongside paid-for shows, our street events gave hundreds of thousands of local residents and tourists a free taster of some of the world’s most extraordinary performances.

“We also gave away £50,000 worth of free passes to families and individuals via charities across Edinburgh, allowing many locals to engage with the festival for the very first time.”

Book festival director Nick Barley said: “In 2017 the festival enjoyed another year of growth in its audience figures and another new record for tickets sold. Around 80 per cent of our audience comes from Scotland, proving that it creates a fascinating marriage of Scottish and international voices.”

A spokeswoman for the film festival said: “We are really delighted that or audience numbers continue to grow year on year, as EIFF attracts festival-goers from all over the world.

As well as providing exciting festival experiences for Edinburgh locals, we’re also committed to extend the reach of the festival and bring new people to the city.

“Our partnership with Virgin Trains East Coast, which offered discounted tickets to customers in 2017, is one of our many initiatives designed to encourage people from outside Edinburgh to attend the festival.

As well as our programme of premiere screenings, we’re also very proud of our free weekend of outdoor screenings in St Andrew Square, which was attended by 20,000 people last year.”

The figures will be published annually by the city council to help monitor changes in the make-up of audiences.

James McVeigh, head of marketing at Festivals Edinburgh, said: “This first collective annual report to the city council offers new insights into where festival audiences come from, and the results show that the festivals are as much a fundamental part of our citizens’ cultural life as they are a key ingredient in our successful tourism sector.

“These findings bear out the high levels of local enthusiasm for the festivals shown in our major impact studies and the council’s own people survey. We plan to update these findings every year.”

Donald Wilson, culture convenor at the council, said: “The festivals remain the number one cultural activity in Edinburgh and are enjoyed by people from all over the world, but they also continue to draw local audiences. With almost 90 per cent of residents saying the festivals increase their sense of pride in their city, and 80 per cent believing the they make Edinburgh a better place to live, it is clear the majority of citizens are festival fans.

“Lots of outreach work is carried out by our festivals throughout the year and with every single primary school in the city. Of course, more engagement with local audiences is the ambition. The recent emergence of events which are free, accessible and engage local people are a fantastic addition.

“We also recognise the festivals bring many challenges, but these are far outweighed by major cultural, social and economic benefits. We need to ensure that, together, we manage their sustainable growth now and into the future, which is why we have launched a report into how we can manage their impacts on our city.”

Among the other events included in the research were the annual science festival, which sells 62 per cent of its tickets in Edinburgh, and the Hogmanay celebrations, which sells 27 per cent of its tickets in Scotland.